'War' is worlds better when viewed at home


Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 12:19 a.m.

Facts

Rewind these

  • War of the Worlds EEE (Three Es)

    Nate's key
  • 4 "E"s: Tremendous (best of the bunch)
  • 3 "E"s: Superior
  • 2 "E's: Fair (it's been done better)
  • 1"E": Avoid (save your money)

  • The most unusual thing about "War of the Worlds" isn't the alien invasion, the thundering tripod killing machines or the xenomorphs that want to run all of humanity through a Juice Master 5000. It's Tom Cruise.
    In "War," he is Ray Farrier. Ray isn't that smart, and he's not very brave. He doesn't have charming things to say, he doesn't inspire confidence in others. He's a deadbeat dad and proves to be a jerk to his own kids. The only thing this jerk has going for him is luck.
    This isn't the type of movie where Cruise swings to the rescue to save the day or flies a spaceship to deliver an alien-killing virus. Nope, this is the type of movie where he somehow manages time and again to cheat death and stagger blindly into the next deadly set piece. Seeing Cruise play the bewildered Everyman is a refreshing change.
    Director Steven Spielberg makes a lot of movies that involve both broken families and panoramic camera shots of panicked hoards of people fleeing a horrible fate. "War of the Worlds" continues that trend in grand fashion, while at the same time making a very solid, traditional alien-invasion movie.
    If you've seen one, you've seen them all. From "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers" to "Independence Day" and "Mars Attacks," the story is always the same. That's not a problem, because it's a good story. (For the record, the maniacal "Mars Attacks" is my all-time favorite alien-invasion movie).
    In "War of the Worlds," the aliens ride lightning into the ground and emerge in massive war machines that crawl around on three armored tentacles. These killer tripods are spectacular and vicious, and make mincemeat of cities, armies and countries. They use death rays, and suck out blood to irrigate their crops and terraform our planet.
    You know what they say - into each life a little rain of human blood must fall.
    It isn't much of a war, as a whacked-out Tim Robbins philosophizes at one point: "It's not a war any more than it's a war between men and maggots."
    And things seem pretty grim. But wouldn't you know it, that jerk Ray turns out to be a good father after all. As for the fate of the world ... I'll leave it to you to find out for yourself.
    I went to see "War of the Worlds" when it was in the theaters, and, frankly, I wasn't impressed. I didn't recommend it to people. But watching it on DVD, it really came to life for me. The special effects seemed better, the action was more exciting; it was an all around better experience than it was at the cinema.
    The same can be said of "Batman Begins," a movie that looked better on my television than it did on the big screen.
    And that got me to thinking. With home theaters, there have been vast improvements in the last decade. Big screen TVs, surround sound, DVD players, hi-definition and plasma-screen TVs, it seems like every year there is a way to make watching movies at home a better experience.
    With movie theaters, there have been no such advances. While some films are being shot digitally, most theaters don't have digital projectors so the quality of the picture is not improving. And apparently some theaters don't have the proper wattage on their projector bulbs so the movies actually look darker and muddier than they should (I suspect this is what happened to me with "Batman Begins.") There have been no advances in services offered, either. You buy the ticket, you get a seat for a movie. Eight bucks for popcorn and a soda, $4.50 for Snowcaps and a guy in a vest tears your ticket. Minimalist at best.
    Going to the theater, you get the same return on your investment as you always did (unless, of course, you're very, very old and can remember when you could see a double feature and a serial for a nickel). But these days, the investment is hefty - eight or nine bucks a ticket.
    Plus there is the bombardment of advertisements before (and sometimes during) the movies themselves. So we're paying more, but how has the moviegoing experience been improved?
    And then there are all the cell phones ... but don't get me started about that.
    Now, even as the box office suffers, there is one notable exception. IMAX theaters are having their best year ever. For those unfamiliar, IMAX movie screens are eight stories high and so big they fill up your entire field of vision. It is a truly engrossing experience and people are turning to it more and more because it offers something unique, something that takes them out of the everyday world.
    Going to the regular cinema is basically the same as it always has been but now it costs an arm and a leg. Is it any surprise that the box office is in a slump? Ticket sales will continue to diminish until the industry reinvents itself and makes going to the movies a fun, magical experience again. Because there aren't enough IMAX screens to go around.
    Are you listening, theater owners? Cinema managers? Corporate execs? Do you realize that when people see a commercial for a slick-looking new movie, most of them say "I can't wait 'til that comes out on DVD." The only real reason to go to the movies these days is for those must-see movies you just can't wait another six months to see.
    The way that filmmaking technology is outpacing film-showing technology, watching a movie on DVD is the best way to truly appreciate it.
    If I had reviewed "War of the Worlds" after watching it at the multiplex, I would have given it two Es out of four. But having experienced it a second time, on my home theater, I give it a recommendation.
    Send smart remarks to Rewindcolumn@hotmail.com.

    Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

    Comments are currently unavailable on this article

    ▲ Return to Top